Yellowknife-based groups opposed to fracking in the Sahtu region need to butt out and leave decisions to the management regime set up through the region’s land claims, according to local land corporations and the region’s MLA who responded to calls for a public review last week.
A letter writing campaign spurred by a coalition of Ecology North, Alternatives North and the NWT Council of Canadians kicked off earlier this month in response to an application by Husky Energy to horizontally drill and hydraulically fracture up to four exploratory wells this winter near Norman Wells.
The letters piling up at the Sahtu Land and Water Board (SLWB) office, including one from Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley, call for a full environmental assessment of the proposal, which if approved would mark the second time horizontal fracking has occurred in the territory.
In the past, referrals to environmental assessment at the exploratory phase have tended to fizzle out oil and gas development due to financial uncertainty.
Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya said it is not the place of people living outside the Sahtu to attempt to control the region’s destiny, especially without providing an economic alternative to the people living there who struggle with unemployment and want to end their dependence on government.
“You have people outside the region telling us how to live our lives, and not respecting the people in the Sahtu – not respecting the land claims,” he said. “The Sahtu people have the ability to create their own economic freedom…We certainly don’t poke our nose in other regions.”
Yakeleya said the co-management regime established through the Sahtu Dene and Métis comprehensive land claim agreement, aided by the recently completed land use plan for the region, has jurisdiction and is more than capable of making sound decisions when it comes to industrial development, regulation and negotiating impact benefits for the people.
“We have the mechanisms in place; it’s not like the wild west, chuck wagons and cattle. We’ve got terms and conditions that were set by the people in the Sahtu,” he said. “That’s why we have the land claim: so we could do business in the way that Sahtu people feel they have some sense of control and ownership and decision-making authorities.”
That sentiment was echoed last week by the Tulita District Land Corp. (TDLC), representing Dene and Métis land claims groups in Norman Wells and Tulita, which told the SLWB it “fully supports the exploration of this world class shale oil resource” on Sahtu lands.
“It is our inherent right to develop resources in our ancestral lands,” stated a press release from Land Corp. CEO Richard Hall last week.
Hall said local organizations are working with territorial and federal governments along with industry to ensure development is being done responsibly with respect for the environment and economic growth for the people.
“The TDLC, while it respects the opinions of those who live outside of our territory, will control our economic destiny,” Hall said.
Discontent within region
Not all opposition to fracking is coming from outside the region. Yakeleya tabled a petition earlier this year in the legislature signed by 120 residents calling for a regional vote to determine whether or not the controversial drilling practice should be permitted in the area.
While Yakeleya noted such discontent exists, he said it needs to be directed locally through the land claim organizations, including the review boards.
“This is a decision that was made by land claim corporations and they agreed to open the land for nominations…for exploring for energy,” he said.
Still, the most vocal critics of fracking in the Sahtu say the land corporations are biased and at a conflict of interest, since many of the directors are related to people who own businesses that could benefit from oil and gas development.
That’s the view of Sheila Karkagie, a Tulita resident who authored the petition opposed to fracking in the region.
“There is so much opposition, and only a little handful of leaders on the Tulita Land and Financial Corp. made the decision for us,” she told The Journal earlier this year. “They own businesses and stand to benefit, so they were in a conflict of interest. This is too big a decision for them to make for us.”
Council of Canadians co-chair Lois Little said making it a Yellowknife vs. Sahtu issue misses the point.
“This is not about who lives where or about people making decisions for others. It is about asking for a process where everyone has a voice, research can be evaluated and the best decision can be made,” she said. “We all have a stake in democratic processes and in protecting water, our life source.”
Public comment on the Husky application closed on Monday, Apr. 28. The Sahtu Land and Water Board now has until May 19 to decide if it will approve the application or refer it to environmental assessment.